The Money Advice Trust’s vulnerability lead Chris Fitch looks at the practice of identifying and supporting customers with mental capacity limitations, and how the Trust’s new e-learning can help.
Lenders have a lot to deal with when it comes to supporting customers in vulnerable circumstances. In many cases frontline staff can come across customers who might exhibit a mental capacity limitation.
As highlighted by our latest guide, ‘Lending and vulnerability: an introductory guide to mental capacity’, customers with mental capacity limitations can experience significant problems with understanding, remembering, and evaluating information about the credit product they are applying for, as well as other difficulties in communicating their decision.
Recent research from the University of Bristol’s Personal Finance Research Centre, supported by the Finance & Leasing Association and UK Cards Association, found that frontline credit staff encountered customers with a serious difficulty in understanding information (one of four elements in a potential mental capacity limitation) 480 times in a single year (based on a team of 10 frontline staff).
These numbers are important to note because when not identified, mental capacity limitations can result in detriment including borrowing, lending and contracts that result in ‘later downstream’ financial difficulty and problem debt.
Practice: identifying and supporting customers
At a high level, lenders should ensure that their vulnerability policies take mental capacity limitations into account. More specifically, staff can utilise the BRUCE protocol – developed for staff that have telephone or face-to-face contact with customers.
BRUCE has been designed to remind staff of the key aspects of decision making (without having to memorise CONC, common law, or capacity law). This protocol covers:
- Behaviour: staff should monitor a customer’s behaviour and speech for indications of difficulties with:
- Remembering: is the customer exhibiting any problems with their memory or recall?
- Understanding: does the customer grasp or understand the information given to them?
- Communication: can the customer share and communicate their thoughts, questions, decisions about what they want to do?
- Evaluation: can the customer ‘weigh-up’ the different options open to them?
When using BRUCE, four golden principles should be taken into account:
- Never presume customers have the mental capacity to make the decision in question.
- Always provide reasonable support to individuals to make their own decisions.
- Remember that the decision is always the customer’s to make.
- Avoid guessing what is ‘wrong’ with a customer – focussing instead on the decision making difficulties a customer may have.
More detail on this protocol can be found on page 12-19 of the Trust’s latest guide here.
BRUCE provides a starting point for action, rather than the final word. Lenders should now be reviewing their policies and protocols and training their staff with practical steps and actions to better identify and support customers with mental capacity limitations.
Whilst developing their own internal resources and policies, lenders can also provide staff with the Trust’s e-learning course for frontline creditor staff which outlines practical tools and strategies for addressing mental capacity.